What does it take to be an effective leader? To answer that question student leaders, using the skills they gained at Cardinal Gibbons, helped over 90 middle school students from the Diocese of Raleigh discover those same skills and learn how to use them effectively during the fifth annual Middle School Leadership Conference.
“The conference also grows the network of student leaders in the diocese and encourages them to practice their skills at an early age. And that, to me, has a rippling effect that is far greater and goes beyond just our diocesan community," said Gabi Burn '08.
The one-day conference took place on October 25 and ran from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. At the conference, students explored the definition of leadership, core values, the skills and qualities of leaders, and how students can exemplify these skills through their leadership in the middle school community.
“The hope of the conference is to spark the growth of leadership in our Catholic middle schools and instill new skills that those students who attend can then share with their school community when they return,” said Gabi Burn '08, director of leadership formation and science educator. She and fellow science educator and alumna Lauren Gentile '04 helped plan the conference, with over 30 Gibbons student leaders.
During the conference, middle school students attended a welcome and opening activity as well as informational and learning sessions, each led by Gibbons student leaders. The sessions this year centered on such topics as leadership styles, leading through relationships, team building, and identifying core values.
New this year was the addition of a student leader panel. The panel included interviewing four students about their middle school and high school leadership experiences. All of the students on the panel attended the Gibbons Middle School Leadership Conference when then were in middle school and are conference leaders. Those students, all seniors, were Sophia Jenny ’20, Daniel Mazzerina ’20, Natalie Thornburg ’20, and Jenna Hackett ’20.
So, what do attendees enjoy most about the conference? “They enjoy the opportunity to meet other student leaders in the diocese, and to see their potential to become leaders as they watch our students lead,” Burn said. “Student leaders designed the conference’s content and sessions, so the things they learned and the messages they heard were relevant to their leadership experience as middle schoolers.”
Students also said they left with a better understanding of what it takes to be a leader. Maddie Pennisi, a seventh-grader at Our Lady of Lourdes (OLL,) said she learned the importance for leaders “to form relationships and have good communication skills.” She said she hopes to utilize those skills when she returns to OLL “to help me be an effective leader on student council and to plan events at my school.”
Parents also benefited from the conference. For the third consecutive year, there also was a parent engagement session, which included a social and fellowship breakfast as well as a luncheon and activities hosted by the Cardinal Gibbons Family Association.
Cristine Burfeind from the Franciscan School (TFS) attended the parent engagement session while her son, Evan, a seventh-grader at TFS, participated in the conference. “The conference helps to reinforce leadership skills in middle school students and enables them to meet leaders from other schools,” Burfeind said. “It also bridges a gap between the middle schools and the high school, which is a positive.”
Asked why it is vital to continue this annual event, Burn said, “ it brings our middle schools together in a way that allows students to feel empowered to enhance their middle school experiences and gives them some practice in the skills necessary to do so.
“It also grows the network of student leaders in the diocese and encourages them to practice their skills at an early age,” she added. “And that, to me, has a rippling effect that is far greater and goes beyond just our diocesan community…”